If you’ve ever experienced the feeling of being ‘hangry’ or the brain fog when the afternoon rolls around and you tell yourself you’ll only have one more coffee or piece of chocolate crucial for that hit of energy you’re dying for, just to get through your never ending to-do list….you are definitely NOT alone.
Trying to boost your mood with sugar or stimulation is not new. And it seems like a good idea at the time (fourth coffee anyone?) but it can actually end up making you feel more anxious, depressed and flat.
What you eat is directly correlated to how you feel.
Yep, I’ll say that again.
What you choose to eat on a day to day basis, along with other lifestyle choices, creates the thoughts you have and the results you will get.
The thoughts you have influence your mood. And the moods you find yourself in will directly affect your outcomes.
Here’s the thing: 95% of your thoughts are subconscious. You brain is constantly telling you a story, weaving a meaningful narrative of your life and how you live it.
You’re not aware of this going on in the background most of the time unless you’ve gone through the coaching process, where we examine a lot of these underlying thoughts and beliefs.
And it’s in those thoughts, or the stories you tell yourself, that create the mood or emotions you feel and consequently, the actions you’ll take.
So what foods should you be eating to support better mental clarity and productivity?
The Food and Mood Connection
Food fuels two major players: your body and your brain.
You body needs nutrients from food to recover, grow and function. Your brain needs nutrients as well, accounting for up to 20 percent of your total daily energy requirements.
When you choose the nutrients (vitamins and minerals, healthy fats and fibre) your body and brain need, you’re giving them the ability to convert these nutrients to make the right hormones and neural connections to create energy, so you’re able to work well under stress, be more productive, improve your sleep quality and generally feel more satisfied and happy.
The bottom line? Just as your food choices affect your physical energy, they will also influence your mental clarity and perception of stress and feeling on top of things, in control. Plus, when you’re in that headspace you’re more likely to be consistent.
Foods That Boost Your Mood
Fruit and vegetables
Fruits and veggies provide us with fibre to support a healthy gut environment. Fibre is a favourite food of the beneficial bacteria in our gut that play a range of roles in supporting our overall health. The scary thing is these days we’re eating a third of the fibre we used to just fifty years ago!
Fruit and vegetables give our bodies a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support brain health. We should aim for five serves of veg a day, and eat low GI fruit up to a few times a week.
Whole grains are great as ‘slow release’ carbohydrates for a steady source of brain fuel.
All grains increase your blood sugar so opt for low GI grains like quinoa, teff, buckwheat, millet and wild rice.
Wheat is mostly consumed as refined flour, which converts to sugar and if it’s from a conventional crop, will be sprayed with carcinogenic glyphosate weed killer, which wrecks havoc with our gut bacteria, contains high amounts of gluten and starch and can cause inflammation in the body.
Also consider your portions (up to 1 cup per meal) depending on your energy needs, lifestyle and pre-existing lifestyle diseases.
Grass fed meats, wild caught fish and pasture raised eggs provide the building blocks of many of the neurotransmitters and brain chemicals that influence your mood.
Concentrating on the source of where your protein came from or was raised and fed is something that is crucial. Try and stick to hormone free, grass fed, animal welfare approved and sustainably produced.
How much is enough? I fill up my plate with mostly nutrient rich veggies, and use meat as a condiment to my meals, rather than making meat the feature.
Fish, especially oily fish such as sardines, salmon and mackerel, as well as organic nuts such as almonds, macadamias and pistachios, and seeds are also a good source of healthy fats and vitamins known to protect the brain and ward off anxiety and depression.
Avocados and quality oils like avocado, macadamia and olive oil are also and essential part of mood foods.
I try and include at least one type of fat in each meal, whether it’s avocado, a sprinkle of nuts or good quality oil drizzled on top with some chia seeds for the texture.
Dairy has it’s place in moderation, such as live yogurt or kefir from grass-fed cows, goats or sheep that contain living beneficial bacteria (known as probiotics) that can boost your gut health, which influences your mood through what we now know as the gut-brain connection.
I consume dairy occasionally, and find that goat and sheep milk agrees with me more than cow’s and that also includes cheeses! Experiment with how you feel after dairy, and what your mood is like. Eating too much can make me feel sluggish, heavy and mentally cloudy. How do you feel?
If you feel like your productivity and mental clarity go downhill then it might be best to avoid dairy and see if you get the same effect without it.
High Energy Foods
It’s natural to crave sugary or fatty energy foods when you’re stressed or tired. Chocolate, sugary drinks, stimulating wine and high fat foods…and who can say no in that state!
And when you’re stressed, your stress hormones drive your reactions and what you do.
When you’re stressed or haven’t been sleeping, cortisol gets secreted into your body, which makes you more likely to eat crap, which then causes inflammation in your gut.
And when your gut is inflamed or imbalanced, it sends a signal to your brain so you feel stressed or anxious or depressed.
And if you give in to your stress cravings, those foods that you crave like the chocolate or sugar worsen that hormonal response and put you into a merry go round cycle.
So what can you do to get out of that vicious cycle?
Here are my top five ways to eat the right food to ensure a positive mood:
- Prioritise a nutrient rich approach to your meals, trying to fit in as many coloured veggies as you can, as well as some prebiotic rich foods
- Minimise snacking but if you want a healthy snack if you’re hungry, opt for a handful of nuts, cut up veggies or a hard boiled egg
- If you’re on the go, pack a healthy snack so you’re not relying on fast food, or whatever is around which is often junk from vending machines
- Drink water, alongside herbal teas and sparkling water to mix it up.
- Be consistent with your habits around your nutrition, sleep, stress and energy so you can enjoy consistent positive moods.
Lifestyle changes can be challenging, and it’s often the consistency that you may struggle with. If you want a step-by step process that works, I’m co-hosting a workshop in a few weeks that will give you a realistic, direct approach to feeling calm, energised and in a good mood in 3 simple steps.
“There’s more to life than feeling stressed, fatigued and overwhelmed and my job is to help, support and empower you to take back control.”